2016 was an excellent year for black films.
After a two-year protest about the lack of African-American films and actors not being nominated at the 2014 and 2015 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Oscar event, African-Americans had labeled the past events as “OscarSoWhite” because of the Academy’s racist and prejudiced overlooking of African-American films, actors and the films portrayal of African-American experiences in the United States.
2017’s event was markedly different because this year’s nomination list was remarkably diverse. This event was also historic because six black actors received nominations, an Oscar record. For the first time, an African-American was nominated in each acting category.
People ask me, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? I say, exhume those bodies. Tell those stories.
Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis
Four documentaries directed by African-Americans were nominated. These were documentaries telling an African-American experience through cinematic artistic expression.
Three black films were nominated for Best Picture, and the Oscars made history by recognizing an independent film “Moonlight,” about a young, gay, black man maturing in a poor family in Miami, Florida. The other two films nominated were “Fences” and “Hidden Figures.”
The results of who won the Oscars for their categories was a paradigm shift compared to past Oscars. In a Facebook post by Janelle Monáe, who won an Oscar as a cast member of the film “Moonlight,” she outlined the “historic first” African-Americans are still making at the Oscars:
The First all-black cast to win best picture.
The First time multiple African-American writers have received an Oscar in the same year.
The First Muslim to win best supporting actor.
The First LGBTQ film to win best picture.
The First African-American writer and director to win best picture. It was made on a $1.5 million budget.
She also added, “Nothing can overshadow the history that was made last night, I beam with so much pride. I hope and pray anyone who ever felt like they didn’t belong or their voice didn’t matter woke up today feeling proud to be you.”
Viola Davis also made history by winning her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Fences.” She also made history by being the first African-American to achieve the “Triple Crown of Acting” (which is an Oscar, Tony, and Emmy award in the acting categories).
In her acceptance speech. Davis said: “People ask me, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? I say, exhume those bodies. Tell those stories.”
The reasons that the stories have not been told is because of historical racism and prejudice within the industry. The stories of African-Americans need to be told through film. Yes, exhume those black bodies, tell their stories and share their historical struggle, contributions and humanity with the world. African and African-American history is over 7,000 years old.
Tell the stories of the African –
▪ black Egyptian Dynasties of the 1st through 18th centuries and 25th century.
▪ kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Ife.
▪ centers of learning: Timbuktu and Sankore.
▪ slave-trading kingdoms of Dahomey and Zanzibar.
▪ in Europe, China, Japan, Australia and South America.
▪ slave rebellions in Africa, Caribbean, South America and in the United States.
▪ slaves and their interactions with native people in America.
▪ in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
▪ people who became American citizens after the passage of the 14th Amendment.
Tell the stories of African-American citizens –
▪ who participated in the northern migration.
▪ and their struggle with Jim Crow laws and social apartheid.
▪ and their involvement in the Harlem Renaissance.
▪ in World War I, World War II, Vietnam War, Iraq War and in the war against terrorism.
▪ involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
▪ involvement in the Black Arts Movement.
▪ involvement in the Black Lives Matter Movement.
▪ in the LBGTQ movement.
▪ who fought for their freedom in America
▪ and their contributions toward the development of our democracy through film.
To paraphrase former President Barack Obama: Tell the stories that helped create a “More Perfect Union.” To paraphrase Spike Lee: The more black stories/films, the “Mo’ Better.”
Homer Gee Greene Jr. is a free-lance writer and photographer, documentarian for the Clark Bonsai Collection, and founding partner and business manager for the start-up tech company ScholarDev LLC. Connect with him on Twitter: @mantisman7.